IT Certification and Training

July 12, 2007

The Job Hunt: Things to Think About

Filed under: jobhunt — Jim Henderson @ 16:45

Over the last few months, I’ve had an ongoing discussion with an acquaintance  about his  job and where he wants to go.  For purposes of this post, I’m going to call him “John”, though that’s not his real name.  He is based somewhere in the UK, currently working for a small company as their sole IT resource.

John is a fairly quiet guy; he’s got a degree in computer science, and interests in math and music.  Like a lot of people starting in IT, he’s not sure exactly where he wants to go or how to sell his skills to potential employers.  Part of the reason for this is that he doesn’t believe he knows anything special that would merit him getting a new job.

One of the things to keep in mind when looking for a job in IT is that all companies need IT infrastructure people these days.  Because of this, you don’t want to limit your options to just, for example, software companies (because that’s where you think of the technology being) or even companies that are in the high-tech industry.  Your local grocery store has some IT infrastructure, and they need someone to manage it, design it, and maintain it.

One thing that surprised me a little during the discussion with John about some of the larger employers in his area was that one of them – a large consulting firm – is something he ruled out because he doesn’t see himself as a good fit for doing consulting work; he doesn’t like working with people, and doesn’t want to be caught between unreasonable customer expectations and sales promises.  Those of us with some experience in the field will have seen the cases where sales says a product can do anything you want, and the consultant coming in and providing a much more limited – and realistic – picture of what it is that a product can do.  John doesn’t want to be the one stuck having to explain that sales oversold the product, and for some people, that’s a reasonable thing to want.

But ruling out any job at the company because they were a consulting company struck me as a little odd.  It turns out that John had learned that one of the things they do is provide outsourced systems management to large clients, so he assumed that they would use those same people to manage their own systems.  He was very surprised to learn that this is likely not the case, as a few of us pointed out to him.

Billable resources (which is what consultants are) are the product that a consulting company sells.  A consultant being billed out at, say, $100/hour to do systems management for a Fortune 50 company is going to be more valuable to the company as a billable resource (that is, a resource that is essentially a consumable product – ie, the consultant’s time) than managing the infrastructure used to run the business.  To run the business, the company might hire a $30-$40 per hour worker.  The revenue generated from the billable resources in the field (ie, the consultants) is going to be what pays both for the consultant and for the non-billable resources that run the company.

Taking a $100/hour resource and dedicating them to several hours a week of managing the systems for the consultancy results in a loss of income that would be used to both pay the consultant and to pay for the IT worker – it’s a double hit for the company to use the resource in that way.

The bottom line is this:  Never assume what a prospective employer’s needs are – that’s up to them to decide.  If your skills are “programming in any number of languages, but not C” (as John’s are), don’t assume that as a programmer you’re worthless to them because “any real software shop is going to require coding in C”.  Fill out the job application, send in a resume/CV, and see what sticks.  Part of the process of getting a job is to put feelers out in as many places as possible and see who bites – it’s kind of like fishing:  Some days you’ll get a nibble, and some days you won’t.  But if you don’t even cast a line into the water, you’re guaranteed never to catch a fish.


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